In Beleaguered Defense of Tyler Perry
If you’d never seen a Tyler Perry film, and the only thing you knew about Tyler Perry was what you read here on Pajiba, you’d probably be disappointed in what you saw. You’d be disappointed because you didn’t explode during the screening or walk out with a head full of flames. Tyler Perry’s films are bad, and they highlight the worst of African-American stereotypes, but there are worse films. To be honest, even among so-called “urban” films, I’d rather watch a Tyler Perry film than movies like The Cookout, First Sunday, The Lottery Ticket, or almost anything that features supporting roles by Keith David, Tommy Davidson, Katt Williams, or Eddie Griffin. Now, Eddie Griffin — that guy makes some seriously shitty films. In fact, as bad as Tyler Perry’s movies might be, the experience can often be uplifting — not because of the movie itself, but because of his audience, who obviously does get his films, and who yell and clap and, on one occasion I recall, dance in the aisles. It’s infectious, and for people whose profession it is not to make the distinction between the experience and the film itself, I can see how easy it might be to get swept up in it.
But most of those other “urban” films movies don’t make much money. Tyler Perry’s films do. And we demonize those who are the most successful at making a particular brand of bad. Crash was a bad film until it won the Oscar, and then it was the worst film ever made. Michael Bay is bad, but let’s be honest: Among action directors, there are worse. Rob Cohen? Roland Emmerich? Michael Bay is just the poster boy for shitty action films, like Tyler Perry is the poster boy for shitty “urban” films. But among the black guys in fat suits, Madea is considerably more watchable than Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma or Eddie Murphy’s Norbit. At least Tyler Perry is trying to impart a message. His movies are little morality plays — Norbit and Big Momma are just brain damaged fat jokes.
And I’ll say this, too: Of all the Tyler Perry films I’ve seen, there’s at least one or good strong performances in them. I hate that Tyler Perry drags respectable talent down to his level, but given the dearth of roles for black people in Hollywood, I’d rather they do his movies than an Eddie Griffin movie. Perry’s movies are littered with outstanding actresses: Alfre Woodard, Loretta Devin, Thandie Newton, Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson, Sanaa Lathan, Angela Basset, and Cicely Tyson, among others. And where else are you going to find Mary J. Blige, Macy Gray, or Maya Angelou? If it weren’t for Tyler Perry, half the great African-American actresses in Hollywood would never have a job (Regina King is one of the few that’s actually escaped a Tyler Perry film, but she’s due).
Given Tyler Perry’s obvious clout, I just wish that the man would wield it better, make more redeeming films, impart more positive messages that aren’t commingled with ugly stereotypes and sexism. The worst part of any Tyler Perry movie is invariably Madea, who not only clobbers those stereotypes to death, but who provides the LCD comic relief. the farts and the bawdy gags that often distract from the melodramas. I’ve seen five or six Tyler Perry films now, and in all of them, Madea played supporting roles (I have not seen the Diary of a Mad Black Woman films). I often even get annoyed with people who conflate the whole of Tyler Perry’s oeuvre with Madea, because it’s obvious they’ve never seen a Tyler Perry film, and you should at least rip them apart with a some knowledge of the movies. They are bad films, but they are not Norbit. They could not be further from that. However, it does seem to me that giving Madea an entire film is tantamount to making another Big Momma’s House with notes of crass spirituality. That’s what Madea’s Big Happy Family looks like.